In the words of Ned Stark… “Winter is coming.” Not that the drop in temperature bothers me too much, because being a vampire and all, I LOVE the cold. No joke, I wear factor 50 every day and spent most of summer covered in ice.
However, winter also brings the danger of dark nights and if you suffer from a mental health condition, then this can cause real problems. It creeps up on you, almost imperceptible at first. You come home and for reasons that you can’t quite put your finger on, this wave of sadness and lethargy hits. It’s like a vacuum, an endless void. You can’t decide what to do with the evening and stare into space. What’s the point in anything? And why do you feel so numb?
Trust me… it’s the darkness causing this shift in mood. Bizarre I know, but it’s true and to be fair not unique to mental illness. January blues anyone? It’s the dark.
The decrease in sunlight affects the Melatonin levels in the body, which in turn affects the Serotonin levels. (What’s with the overuse of ‘tonin’ in medical jargon? Who’s the lazy bastard)?! Anyway, if you have anxiety or depression then God knows you already lack Serotonin, so anything that affects this is bad news.
I’ve been affected since I was eighteen. It starts in October like a sequence that resets once a year. Sometimes I get away with it until November and sometimes not. It’s shit, but i know when it’s coming and there are things that can be done.
In October, I prepare to initiate my ‘mental dark nights plan’ (MDNP)! When I think of a cooler name I’ll let you know…. This plan allows me to regain control of the situation and be more proactive. Who wants to be a slave to the dark? Not me!
Mustering the enthusiasm to take action isn’t easy. Sometimes all I want to do is come home and crawl into bed, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t (it just needs to be done).
However, having a plan and sticking to it routinely does have a positive effect.
When I get home – close all the curtains. If you live in a flat it’s tempting not to do this, but close them all. Distance your brain from the dark and it won’t focus on it.
Soft lighting. Nothing harsh like the ‘big light’ – instead use lamps and preferably light a few candles. This will create a feeling of safety and coziness. Choose one room to focus on. Let’s be honest, it ain’t happening in the kitchen. Make pasta via candlelight anyone? I center on the living room and treat myself to some hefty candles.
Scent. I’m a big believer in scent association. Invest in a candle that has a strong relaxing scent such as lavender, sandalwood or frankincense and only use it during the evenings. The brain will start to associate this scent with comfort. Alternatively you can use aromatherapy oils. I like to burn frankincense when I really need some comfort.
Not incense though.. for the love of God we’ve all tried them and we all know they’re shit. Talk about smoke stains.
Food. Plan something nice to cook. Do this in advance so that you’re not faffing about when you get home. In my opinion, winter is no place for dieting. I’m not suggesting that you eating nothing but pizza and chips. But don’t go for salads or cold food. Make stir frys, soups with crusty bread and pasta bakes. Comfort food! I love a salmon pasta bake with truffle oil, spinach, crème fresh and cheese. I’m getting the nutrients from the salmon and spinach and happiness from the cheese! The process of cooking the meal is also a good distraction technique. Music is important too, I like to play The Beatles when I cook.
Good pyjamas. Yes we all sleep in skanky t’shirts during the summer. But winter is no place for a ex’s jumper, or grotty pants. Invest in some good quality pjs and again only wear them during this time of year. Buy two sets and some slippers if you can afford it. Men this also applies to you! M&S do really cosy sets, but then so do Primark.
Be kind to your body and wrap it in comfort.
Distraction. Watch a film, read a book, have a bath etc.. After dinner is normally when that infamous ‘now what?’ Feeling hits. It’s too early to go to bed, but you’re not sure what to do with yourself and viewing the evening as “time to kill before the next day” is just depressing. So have a variety of activities lined up.
You can even plan this a week in advance e.g.
Monday night: Bath and book night, with a glass of wine, tea or whatever. Face masks too!
Tuesday: Knitting (yes I’m a serious knitter in the winter) see this post for more craft related ideas
Wednesday: Catch up with family & friends on the phone.
Thursday: Cinema night (for the record, yes of course you can go to the cinema solo)
Friday: It’s Friday, who cares!
This is a basic plan that can be mixed up. Normally I see friends at least once a week. It can be tempting to shut the world out when you feel low, but social interaction is naturally uplifting. Even if you just go for a quick drink or a catch up round their house. Don’t curl up with the darkness.
Light. For the mornings, which are also depressingly dark I use an SAD light. Or as Dan likes to call it my ‘marijuana light’ (seriously I have no idea what the neighbours must think). I sit in front of it whilst eating my breakfast. Don’t worry, it doesn’t contain any UV rays (as a Vampire I would spot this), it’s just an artificial way for the brain to get more melatonin. You can use it in the evenings too. Pop it on while you’re cooking.
Sunday night party! – Everyone (mental illnesses or not) suffers from a certain amount of the Sunday night blues, or ‘dread’ as I call it. You don’t want to go to bed because your mind is racing about the upcoming week, but you also know that staying up until 3am = knackered in the morning. WHAT’S THE ANSWER?
Well I say take the bull by the horns and tackle it head on.
Every year from mid Oct – Feb, I have weekly ‘Sunday night parties’ – granted the only attendees are Dan and Rigby, but whatever.. It’s exclusive! Embrace Sunday night & turn it into something positive.
- Attire – Freshly washed pjs and slippers.
- A film – NOT a TV series, as you’ll get addicted and end up watching the entire thing. The only concession to this rule is Poldark and Victoria, as you can watch them back to back and that’s technically like a film.
- Games – Top trumps is ideal, or board games. Dan & I actually play snakes and ladders like kids. If you’re flying solo then card games such as ‘higher or lower’ or jigsaws are good.
- Party food – nothing too heavy on the digestive system. Biscuits, crumpets or buttery toast are perfect. Preferably the food should be served on nice/fun plates (it’s a party after all).
- Party drinks – something warm and comforting. I like lemon & ginger tea. But hot chocolate is also great. Nearer Christmas as an absolute treat you can have ONE cup of mulled wine/cider.
- Beauty stuff: Nail varnish is great, or I like to do a full facial, complete with facial massage. This gets rid of any tension in the muscles. Watch this for instructions. It’s lengthy at 20 mins, but Lisa Eldridge is totally worth it! Men you are NOT excused from this. Facial massages feel amazing and everyone should take care of their skin.
- Aromatherapy oil: Preferably lavender, but this is optional.
Ok so the party starts around 8:30pm when dinner is finished and the washing is all done.
Begin with a bath or shower (warm water aids relaxation) and feeling clean is always nice. Then slip/dive into your cosy pjs.
Organise the party food & drinks, then head into the living room, or whatever room you’ve chosen. Play games for around one hour, so for f**k sake not Monopoly!
Then get the film set up and while watching it, paint your nails, do a facial (bring warm water into the living room so you don’t have to keep dashing out), or simply curl up and watch it.
Smooth a drop of lavender oil over your pillow and climb into bed. LEAVE YOUR PHONE IN ANOTHER ROOM. Yes we all think it helps us sleep but it doesn’t.
I hope this is something that you’ll all try at some point. Tbh, it doesn’t even have to be every Sunday.
I would LOVE to see any pics or comments, so please use the hashtag #SunMadParty on Twitter/Instagram.
X x x x
Check out the below video to see my MDNP plan in action.